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Aspects of Design : Texture

Hard texture | Plant texture | Using texture

Texture describes the quality of touch; everything in the garden has a distinctive ‘feel’ to it, dramatically illustrated by the Canary Island date palm at Fota, Co. Cork. But there is more to it than that, we subconsciously memorise the appearance of an object and how its surface feels. We relate the ‘feel’ of an object with how it looks. With experience, we are able to form an impression of how an object would feel just by looking at it.

The pattern of the surface judged by our eyes gives us a clue as to its texture. Therefore, texture has a visual quality to it as well as a quality of touch. For example, if a beach is stony, we can be pretty sure it will feel rough underfoot.

Hard texture

The hard materials of the garden look hard; they have a hard texture. This contrasts with plants, highlights their softness, and is ‘softened’ by the plants. There are other aspects to the texture of hard materials too.

Gravel, stones and cobbles in the garden have a rough, or coarse texture, by comparison with fine, even sand, or smooth concrete slabs. The finish on hard materials has an influence on the plants used with them.

Plant texture

Plant texture is soft by contrast with the hardness of the non-living part, and it is described in very varied ways. For example; sharp (yucca); rounded (hebe); lumpy (laurel); fine (box); strong (tree trunks) ); flimsy (clematis); rugged (scots pine); delicate (ferns); jagged (red hot poker); foamy (gypsophila).

The size of the foliage principally governs plant texture. Large size gives a bold dramatic effect – gunnera(as shown), lysichiton, ornamental rhubarb, acanthus, rodgersia, bergenia, hosta, fatsia, chestnut, hydrangea.

Small-sized foliage is calm and soothing – broom, tamarisk, box, lithospermum, lonicera, yew, many conifers, santolina, heather, thyme, dicentra.

The shape of the leaves, and how they are arranged on the stems, contribute to a plant’s characteristic texture. For example, japanese maple has quite large leaves but they are much divided in many varieties, and they are usually held in layers above each other. The result is a delicate, feathery fern-like effect.

Plant texture can be deceptive; the pattern of foliage, or bark, can be misleading. For example, gorse looks to have fine, soft texture but is very spiny to the touch. The bark of redwoods looks hard but it is soft and spongy to touch.

Distance can affect the perception of texture. From a distance, the needles of some pines look fine and silky; up close, they are as coarse as a yard brush.

Using texture

Variation of texture lends interest to the garden. Most plants have medium-sized leaves and unremarkable texture. Now and then, some really bold dramatic foliage, or fine, soft foliage, should be used to make a change, such as the astelia in this arrangement of pots.

The soft texture of plants contrasts with the hard texture of walls and paving, but even better effects can be created. Bold plant foliage is good with fine non-living material – large leaves with smooth paving or sand. Equally, the fine textured foliage of blue fescue, tamarisk or dwarf pine, looks good with the rough texture of gravel.

Since most things are small and fine textured in the distance, an impression of space can be created by placing fine textured plants at the end of the garden, bold texture close by.

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